Snacking Is the Norm in a Pandemic

Some people prefer snacks over meals; others seek comfort.

November 17, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—It’s probably no surprise that people are snacking more during the pandemic than they did pre-COVID-19. reports that Mondelēz International conducted its second State of Snacking study and found that 70% of millennials and 67% of those working from home during the pandemic prefer snacking over meals. Plus, 88% of adults say they’re snacking the same or more than before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Snacking is becoming a more solo activity, the study found, with comfort being the No. 1 driver and more than half (53%) of consumers selecting nostalgic childhood brands. At the same time, 64% of adults are relying on snacks for nourishment, while 56% are seeking options that boost immunity.

Like other food and beverage categories, the snacking industry has morphed during the pandemic. Salty snacks and e-commerce shopping have grown in popularity. Last year’s Mondelēz snacking report found that 59% of adults worldwide preferred snacking to a more traditional meal compared to the two-thirds of consumers who do this year.

Experts attribute the growth of snacking to the lockdowns and altered eating habits caused on by the pandemic. The Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council found that 85% of respondents have changed their diet in some way, with snacking becoming more prevalent. In May, Mondelēz reported that since lockdowns began, 40% of people said they eaten more snacks—both as a meal substitute, as well as a supplement in between meals.

But not all snacks are created equal. Mondelēz’s report found that the salty snacks category, including chips, popcorn and pretzels, has been strong, with sales jumping 7% between 2019 and 2020. A recent Innova Market Insights report found that salty snacks are popular meal substitutes, with almost a quarter of consumers using them to replace lunch and 17% eating them in place of dinner.

In North America, chocolate remains popular with sales growing 7% from last year, according to Mondelēz. The National Confectioners Association reports that sales of chocolate rose 5.5% between March 15 and Aug. 19, 2020. Premium chocolate experienced a bigger increase, with sales spiking 12.5%.

While most snacking takes place at home, not all distribution channels are equally favored by consumers. Half of global adults say they are buying snacks online more often than they do in-store or offline (47%), with 69% planning to continue shopping for snacks online once the pandemic is over.

E-commerce is convenient for consumers and it lets companies track shopper purchases, gaining insight into what people are putting in their virtual baskets. Some companies—including PepsiCo, Mondelēz and Unilever—rolled out direct-to-consumer platforms that focus on popular staples.

With habits shifting, manufacturers would do well to take advantage of the growing popularity of the $1.2 trillion snacking segment, which shows no sign of slowing down.

The NACS Crack the Code Experience, which runs through Dec. 4, offers a close look at the foodservice industry during the age of COVID-19. Don’t forget to go back and listen to the education session “Feeding the New Consumer: Health, Food Trends, Pandemics and More!,” for details on consumers’ changing tastes and cravings. Register now and get access to these sessions, along with 50+ education sessions, virtual showrooms and online networking within the convenience and fuel retailing industries.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.